Growing tension over North Korea’s artillery fire on South Korean island

South Korea gets international support, joint naval drills with U.S.

World watching for negotiations between Iran, major powers

NATO summit approves missile shield system, new strategic concept

NATO members stress commitment to protect Afghanistan after 2014

North Korea's artillery attack on South Korea was likely related to Pyongyang's succession plans for the regime's leader-in-waiting, the U.S. military top officer said.

"This is also tied, we think, to the succession of this young 27-year-old who's going to take over at some point in the future," Admiral Mike Mullen said in an interview, referring to Kim Jong-Un, the youngest son of the current leader.

"It's a worrisome leadership in North Korea," Mullen told ABC's "The View."

He called the authoritarian state's leader, Kim Jong-Il, "a very unpredictable guy, a very dangerous guy."

South Korean Prime Minister Kim Hwang-Sik also pointed to the succession process in North Korea, telling parliament the shelling was designed to bolster the position of the leader's son and play up outside threats.

The North was trying "to brandish heir apparent Kim Jong-Un's military prowess, strengthen internal unity and vent internal discontent toward the outside", the premier told the National Assembly.

The United States has condemned the attack and vowed to stand behind its alliance with South Korea, but officials and military leaders have praised Seoul for showing "restraint" and made no threats of possible military action.

The United States and South Korea announced a joint naval show of force including an American aircraft carrier to deter the North, which killed a total of four people in its first shelling attack on civilians since the 1950-53 war.

But Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan insisted the exercises in the Yellow Sea had been planned for some time and the date had been agreed before the artillery barrage this week.

"This had been planned and in the works," Lapan told reporters. "It was not a reaction to the North's unprovoked attack."

The US State Department said the artillery barrage of a South Korean island was "a clear premeditated action by North Korea specifically intended to inflame tensions in the region."

The United States acknowledged there was no guarantee that North Korea would back away from confrontation, and Washington was "prepared" for that scenario, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters.

"We believe we are taking the right approach and we would hope that over time North Korea would recognize and move in a different direction, but we understand that the track record suggests they won't, and we're prepared for that if needed," Crowley said.

He also said China had a pivotal role to play in defusing tensions and that Washington hoped Beijing would use its influence with North Korea.

"China does have influence with North Korea and we would hope and expect that China would use that influence first to reduce tensions that have arisen as a result of North Korea provocations, and then secondly continue to encourage North Korea to take affirmative steps to denuclearize," he said.

Meanwhile, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev stressed the importance of Iran keeping to a peaceful nuclear program in his first meeting with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad since a breakdown in ties.

In what the Kremlin called a "completely open" discussion, Medvedev told Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of a regional summit that nations stood ready to support Iran as long as it kept its ambitions in check.

"The conversation was of a completely open nature. Neither ourselves nor our colleague avoided the unpleasant questions," Medvedev's top foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko said after the meeting in Baku.

"The president (Medvedev) spoke of the importance of the continuation of a peaceful Iranian nuclear program," Russian news agencies quoted Prikhodko as saying.

"An example (of such co-operation) came at Bushehr" where Russia recently launched Iran's first nuclear power plant, Prikhodko added.

The comments kept to the careful diplomatic line Russia maintained in the days leading up to the high-stakes meeting: strongly backing more talks with Iran but resisting showing outright support for its president.

In a sign of the meeting's sensitivity and contrary to usual practice, Russian state television did not broadcast the opening remarks and showed only the two men shaking hands with Ahmadinejad smiling broadly.

Once a reliable backer of Tehran, Moscow has scrapped a controversial missile deal with Iran and backed United Nations sanctions against the country, which Russia now admits is nearing the ability to develop a nuclear bomb.

Ahmadinejad had earlier this year vented his fury at Medvedev and accused Russia of selling out "to our enemies".

He reiterated that such pressure tactics would fail.

"They think that they will achieve something by putting pressure on Iran. But they will not," Ahmadinejad said in reference to a group of world powers that is scheduled to meet with Iran again on December 5.

"They hope that a blockade of Iran will change the Iranian people. But the Iranian people will not be broken by sanctions."

Analysts had billed the Baku encounter as a last chance for Tehran to step out of its growing international isolation and show good will toward an ally whose backing it simply cannot afford to lose.

Yet Tehran's tone going into the meeting was firm. Tehran insisted that Iran can do without the Russian weapons and even claimed it had developed and tested a system very similar to the S-300 missiles that Russia never sent.

The Kremlin has played down its recent frustrations with Iran and stressed that any form of dialogue - even if it comes amid sanctions - was preferable.

"We have to see the seriousness of the Iranian president's intention to continue a purposeful dialogue with the world community," Prikhodko said as he went into the meeting.

"We have to learn why he disagrees... and find out his arguments. But this does not mean that we have to agree with them," he said.

The Caspian Sea summit itself - the third gathering of nations that also includes Azerbaijan and the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan - was unlikely to make much progress on its most important dispute: how to split up the sea and its vast energy reserves.

Iran insists on dividing the Caspian into five equal portions while the Azerbaijanis are angling for access that corresponds to each country's coastline.

On the other hand, US President Barack Obama and his NATO allies have agreed to set up a new anti-missile defense shield across Europe and to invite Russia to take part.

The deal means NATO leaders will set up a network of radars and interceptors forming an anti-ballistic missile shield extending over Europe and possibly linking with Russia too.

'I'm pleased to announce that for the first time, we have agreed to develop a missile defense capability that's strong enough to cover all NATO European territory and populations, as well as the United States,' Obama said after a first session of the two-day NATO summit in Lisbon.

Russia had been fiercely critical of a US missile defense plans, seeing it as a direct threat to its nuclear deterrent.

But the 28 NATO powers hope President Dmitry Medvedev can be won over in discussions with the alliance, the first encounter at this level since Moscow waged a war in Georgia in 2008.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said he expects Russia and the Allies to begin a joint study of Russia's possible inclusion in the missile defense system, which would be a significant softening of Moscow's position.

In a 'strategic concept' setting out NATO priorities for the next decade, the leaders agreed to 'develop the capability to defend our populations and territories against ballistic missile attack as a core element of our collective defense'.

'We will actively seek cooperation on missile defense with Russia and other Euro-Atlantic partners,' they said.

The broad agreement marks a significant advance for Obama's scheme, first announced in November 2009 when he ditched plans for a missile shield in Eastern Europe, the cause of a Cold War-style row with Russia.

Obama decided to replace the shield, the brainchild of former US president George W Bush, with a more mobile system targeting Iranian short-range and medium-range missiles, initially using sea-based interceptors.

Before leaving Moscow, the Russian party said it was keen to share ideas about common missile defense but played down the chances of a major decision realigning the continent's security.

Rasmussen said Russia would likely be invited to link up with the NATO missile umbrella rather than merging its defenses with those of the alliance, set up in 1949 to contain the Soviet Union.

'I think, realistically speaking, we can't start by merging our systems into one common missile defense system,' Rasmussen said earlier in the day.

'Realistically speaking, I think we should think of two separate systems that cooperate. We could exchange information and data and thereby make the whole system more efficient and give better coverage.'

In addition to wooing the Russians, NATO allies have tiptoed around Turkey's concerns about its sensitive relations with neighbor Iran.

Diplomats had been discussing publicly identifying Iran as an emerging missile threat but Turkey had refused to countenance this possibility and Tehran did not figure in the document released.

In Lisbon, NATO said this week it aimed to hand full control of security in Afghanistan to Afghan forces by the end of 2014 but promised not to abandon the country in its fight against the Taliban.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants the handover completed by that date, with a vastly reduced number of foreign troops staying in a training and support role, but some NATO officials fear a rise in violence could make it hard to meet the target.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen sought to reassure Karzai over the timetable on the second day of an alliance summit in Lisbon attended by the Afghan leader and 48 countries with troops in Afghanistan.

"Today marks the beginning of a new phase in our mission in Afghanistan. We will launch the process by which the Afghan government will take leadership for security throughout the country, district by district," Rasmussen said.

"If the enemies of Afghanistan have the idea that they can just wait it out until we leave, they have the wrong idea. We will stay as long as it takes to finish our job."

The conflict is widely seen as going badly for the United States and NATO, and is a tough political problem for U.S. President Barack Obama to solve. Many countries want to withdraw troops gradually as the war becomes increasingly unpopular.

"If the Afghan president reconfirms that between now and 2014 he will be in the condition to keep the territory under control, we have to trust President Karzai," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told reporters.

Obama, who has sent 30,000 more U.S. troops to the war in the past year to try to quell the Taliban-led insurgency, intends to start withdrawing some forces in July 2011. He also supports efforts at reconciliation with the Taliban.

Rasmussen said the new strategy did not mean all 150,000 foreign troops now deployed in Afghanistan would leave the country by the end of 2014.

"Let there be no doubt about our continuing commitment.

Afghanistan's fight against terrorism is of strategic, global importance," he said. "Which is why we will agree on a long-term partnership between NATO and Afghanistan to endure beyond the end of our combat mission."

The U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan began in response to the September 11, 2001, attacks. The United States and its allies invaded to overthrow the then-ruling Taliban, who had refused to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

More than 2,200 foreign troops have been killed there in the past decade and the death rate is on the increase.

The withdrawal strategy hinges on efforts to build up Afghan forces so they can contain the widening insurgency, with a target strength of more than 300,000 by the end of 2011.

That has been hampered by high desertion rates, and the Kabul government is widely regarded as too corrupt, unstable and inept to survive long without foreign military support.

NATO will also seek Russian assistance during the summit when leaders meet President Dmitry Medvedev in Lisbon.

Russia fought a war in Afghanistan from 1979-89 before withdrawing in defeat, and is expected to allow equipment to go through its territory and provide specialized helicopters.

Moscow is expected to sell 18 Mi-17 helicopters to the United States and lend three more to Afghan forces. The Mi-17 is better suited to operating in Afghanistan's high altitudes and cold weather than equivalent U.S. helicopters.

NATO will also invite Russia to take part in a U.S.-European missile defense system designed to protect against a long-range attack from the Middle East or North Korea.

The NATO summit has also agreed a new strategic concept or mission statement to guide the 28-member alliance for the next decade. It reaffirms a commitment to a nuclear capability as long as such weapons exist, and aims to focus member states on 21st century threats such as cyber attack.